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What Is A Muscle Strain? Know Its Causes & Treatment

Do you experience pain and tenderness when you touch your muscles? If yes, then this article is for you. A muscle strain occurs when one of your muscles is overstretched or torn. Excessive pressure can be exerted on the muscle when you are performing daily activities, such as the sudden lifting of heavy things or playing sports. It can also happen if the muscle is stretched beyond its normal comfortable range or made to work too hard or too fast.

The most common muscles to strain are those in your legs and back. We will discuss muscle strain symptoms, what causes the muscle strain and the best treatments for muscle strain here.

Muscle strain, an overview

Muscles are made up of a band of fibres, which relax and tighten, thus making us move. The main muscles that people tend to strain are:

  • The calf muscles at the back of your lower legs – these help you raise your heel
  • The quadriceps muscles at the front of your thigh – these help you straighten your knee
  • The hamstring muscles at the back of your thigh – these muscles help you bend your knee.

Muscle damage is usually in the form of partial or complete tearing of the tendons and fibers attached to the muscles. The tearing of the muscle also impairs small blood vessels, which ultimately causes local bleeding, or bruising. Pain occurs due to irritation of the nerve endings in the area.

Types of muscle strain:

There are two types of muscle strain.

  • Acute muscle strain: A sudden injury to the muscle causing a tear is called acute muscle strain.
  • Chronic muscle strain: This type of injury occurs when you repeat a movement over and over again, eventually wearing down the muscles you’re using in the process. Some sports with repetitive motions can also lead to chronic muscle strains.

Muscle strain Vs Sprain

Muscle strains are some of the most common injuries; however, this type of injury is often confused with a sprain, but it’s quite simple. So let’s start by clarifying the difference.

  • strain is an injury that affects the muscle or the tendon. The tendon is the tissue that connects muscle to bone.
  • sprain is an injury that affects a ligament. A ligament is a connective tissue joining bones together.

What Causes Muscle Strain?

What exactly happens that causes a muscle strain? The most common places you may experience a strain are the neck, back, and shoulders. When you overstretch a muscle, or your muscle is forced to contract against a strong force you can strain the muscle. Strains may also involve tendon damage. This can happen when you’re exercising or playing a sport, or due to a heavy blow to your muscles, or by lifting something heavy.

You are more likely to develop a muscle strain in certain situations, like:

  • If you don’t warm up your muscles properly before exercise and cool them down afterwards
  • If you don’t take enough time off to recover between training sessions and have tired or overused muscles
  • If you have tight or stiff muscles
  • Have injured your muscle before
  • Experience some weakness
  • Lift heavy objects incorrectly, or have a poor technique in a sport and put too much strain on your muscles
  • If you use incorrect sports gear
  • If you are overweight

What Are The Symptoms Of a Muscle Strain?

The main symptoms of a muscle strain include pain and tenderness when you touch the affected muscle. Apart from these, you may also experience:

  • A mild (grade one) muscle strain, the area may feel tender along with a bit of swelling and some bruising. You can still move normally and carry on with your activities.
  • If you have a grade two painful muscle strain, you may also have some bruising and swelling over the affected area. It might be difficult to perform daily activities.
  • A grade three strain is usually really painful with a lot of swelling and bruising. You will experience pain when you use the affected muscles.

How is Muscle Strain Diagnosed?

If you strain a muscle you may feel pain either immediately, or shortly afterwards. As a result, you might seek medical assistance to get a correct diagnosis. The diagnosis is usually done by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan in case of a severe injury. An ultrasound may also be done to produce an image of the inside of your body.

Treatment of Muscle Strain

Treatment of a muscle strain reduces your pain and any swelling. It helps to get you back to your daily activities as soon as possible. The treatment of muscle strain depends on the severity of the injury. Generally, grade 1 and grade 2 sprains can be managed at home. But if you have a more severe strain, you might need hospital treatment. It is extremely important to allow your muscles to heal and to protect it from further damage by taking certain steps as soon as you can. The treatments include:

1. Medicines: If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter (OTC) tablets or painkillers. These include:

  • Ibuprofen tablets can be taken to get relief from the pain
  • You can use the cream or gel straightaway
  • You can also take paracetamol straightaway

2. Physiotherapy: If your muscle doesn’t get better after a week, then consult a physiotherapist. If your injury is severe, then a physiotherapist may help you strengthen your damaged muscle. Physiotherapy exercises gradually strengthen and stretch your muscles and strengthen them. These exercises will vary depending on the kind of injury you have and how severe it is.

3. Surgery: In some cases, if your muscle strain is severe, or your muscle has completely torn, surgery is planned to repair it. The type of operation you have will depend on which muscle you have torn.

4. Self-help: Self-help is a very important thing to protect your muscle injury from further harm. You can achieve it by:

  • Taking rest for the first two to three days, and then slowly start moving again so you don’t lose too much muscle strength. Apply ice on the injured muscle to lessen pain. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin.
  • Compress the area by bandaging it to support the injury and help decrease swelling.
  • Always try to elevate the injured area above the level of your heart (if possible) to control swelling.
  • Keep the area supported on a pillow and try to keep it elevated as much as possible until the swelling reduces.

How to Prevent Muscle Strain?

You can easily reduce the possibility of straining a muscle by practicing a thorough warm-up before you exercise. Apart from this, it is also important to make sure your muscles are strong and flexible enough and you’re fit enough for the activity you’re doing. Design your activities so you don’t push yourself too hard, too soon.

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